About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.

Terror, disillusionment, silence

What kind of title is that for a Thanksgiving post? Let’s step back for a moment so that I can explain.

First of all, I am not a big Alanis Morissette fan. Hey, I don’t dislike her, but her music was never held great pull for me. So what does that have to do with Thanksgiving or this blog? Well, she has one song that I absolutely LOVE. From the first time I ever heard “Thank U” I was turned around. The song came along a time in my life when the lyrics hit me in a particular way. Although my life has changed tremendously since then, the song still means to much to me. And the song is “Thank U” and it is after all…

THANKSGIVING!

When I was on Camino the song was often in my head. I did have it on my phone, so one day I played it for myself, a day near the end of the Camino. Maybe it was even our last day of walking?  Listening to it made me VERY weepy. One of the things that I did when I got home was to rewatch The Way – and imagine my surprise to find the song used in the film. At some level I must have known that, but it was not conscious.

Today on Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful for many things. Like some of what Alanis writes about in the song, I find myself as grateful for the difficult things as much as the good things.

Terror, frailty, insecurity, pain, challenge – what gifts these are! When I was younger I could not see the world that way at all. Life’s elements lined up into two categories, GOOD and BAD. Frequently I believed that the BAD outnumbered the GOOD by far. Poor me. Truth be told, some horrible things happened.

One day I was getting my hair cut and the woman who cut it at the time was listening to my usual litany of complaints about problems in my life, and about past experiences that had been so painful. She stopped what she was doing and glared at me… I could see both of our reflections in the mirror and I felt terrified because she looked so angry. Basically she told me that it might be helpful if I could see my problems in the context of good. The rest of the hair cut time passed in an awkward silence, but her words stayed with me.

Could I be grateful for terrible things, at least things that I perceived as terrible?

The answer, over time, turned into yes. Today I think of all that I am grateful for in my life and I imagine it in the context of what that cost my soul. Instead of seeing that cost as value lost, I see it in the light of what came forth. It is sort of like being buried in a garbage heap and making one’s way to the top. When your head emerges you can see and breathe! Where is the focus? The horror of being buried in the heap or the exquisite joy of making your way out into the air? Bye-bye GOOD and BAD. One cannot exist without the other, can it? A more holistic way of seeing, a more integrative way of living brings forth many gifts, garbage heaps and all.

Enough about terror and disillusionment, allow me to allow a word about silence. In our word of constant noise, chatter, social media, too many tasks, too many things, too much information, silence is a lost gift. For a long time I have tried to preserve ways of keeping silence. Some have worked better than others.

When I was on Camino I had extended periods of silence. Not just the hours spent walking in silence with friends nearby, but not in conversation, but also the silence that came from being removed from the quotidian explosion of noise. And by that I mean externally as well as internally… Real silence.

Maybe as we mull over what we are grateful for we can imagine new ways of being. God knows the world could use some new ways, right? We will all have different  ways of experiencing this. Sometimes our wounds are too fresh and new for us to gather in the horror and pain of life. Sometimes silence is the last thing a person needs because of their life circumstances. We are all on different paths, different “caminos” of life.

May you find some modicum of gratitude and joy today. And if you cannot, know that you are not alone in your circumstances. May change come to all of us, even if it starts with a hair stylist holding a pair of scissors and glaring at you with stink eyes! A little levity, but I am serious. We never know where our joy will come from, do we? Anyway, today I say thank you for many things. And I am very grateful to all of you who read this blog. Wherever you are in the world, know that you are part of my Thanksgiving, and I hold you in the heart of my prayers today. Thank You.

Just walk

my-boot-and-me-wordsToday is the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ. It is not on the liturgical calendar because his canonization is not complete. One day, one day…

Ever since I returned from Camino Santiago on October 31, I have found myself at loose ends. First of all, the return from the pilgrim life and back into the quotidian routine is startling. I am reminded of cycles of birth and death – I imagine being birthed is a shock to our tiny bodies, but we adjust, and God willing, thrive. As we do not know of death until we get there, our faith informs us of another passage which may be shocking at first, but one that I believe will be… well, I have no words, but glorious comes to mind.

Anyway, I feel like I have either been born or died, I cannot figure out which one. Born in the sense that I feel ever more a child of God, totally dependent and unable to Continue reading

Here now, paradise later.

stazione11We’ve been leading up to this Sunday, the last one of the liturgical year. All the readings headed to this point have drawn more and more apocalyptic, which seem sadly fitting to the days in which we live. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Today’s Gospel from Luke is very telling when we think of Christ as our Lord and King of the Universe, especially if we think of this with any sort of eschatological or  apocalyptic view.

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So here we are Continue reading

Dreams, action, and justice

03de7a07ac1437954fb6ed41b144e18dThere is not much that I feel like I can say right now. It has been a tough week, although I did have a birthday and I continue to ponder my Camino. Finding words to write about that is difficult, but on the other hand, maybe more important than ever now!

In any case, this song has been on my mind since Tuesday night, so I put it here to begin the week. Nothing is over really, in fact Continue reading

Timeless Surrender

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Like pretty much everyone else, I can’t wait for tomorrow to be over. When I was on Camino, I was marginally aware of what was going on, but I really tried to tune out. Not having TV, newspapers, or a lot of time to look at my phone was a great antidote to election-obsession. Well, now I am back. As I try not to be obsessed, I am more aware and more focused on the news.

A particular thought goes through my mind as I listen to the doomsday predictions of what will happen if Continue reading

Fear? Or faith?

popefrancis-fear-tyrannyOn Saturday I walked to church and listened to a podcast. The thing in the podcast that struck me the most was just how powerful a motivator fear can be. Having already read the mass readings, which address fear and other things, and I began to think about fear in our time. It is not all that different than fear in any other time; it just seems worse because we are bombarded with so much information.

So what are we afraid of? Continue reading

Where it happens

meseta-after-castrojeriz

The Meseta, somewhere after Castrojeriz, but before Fromista

It is very hard to go on Camino Santiago. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. At the beginning – if you start in St Jean Pied de Port – you are faced with a strenuous climb on day one. That’s true even if you only go as far as Orisson on that day, like we did. On day two you continue to face a big climb, followed by a big descent. Then you arrive at Roncesvalles where arrival at the albergue is pretty much the opposite of the intimate and warm greeting at Orrison. Crowds, shouted orders, lines, food tickets and more.  It was disorienting to say the least, not to mention the exhaustion, the questions (why am I here?) and more.

Days follow, more trials and challenges. You come to find that everything in Spain in uphill. Well, almost everything it seems. Then you realize that uphill is difficult, but downhill – that stuff will mess you up! It is worse! Soon enough you believe you will be fine because you are on the Meseta. The thing is, it is not always flat, but it is hot, dry, dusty, and desolate, providing its own brand of challenge.

Now if I am making the Camino sound awful, slow down. It is amazing, but it is no stroll in the park. The point is, going on Camino is a gift and privilege, but it is also a big challenge. It is hard.

Yet, here is what may be even harder – returning home and re-entering the stream of life. That’s hard too, at least after 48 hours. I am so happy to be back home and with Mark. I loved taking my own shower in my own bathroom and sleeping in my own bed.

The Camino happens not only in Spain, but it happens in the “room” that is one’s heart. And I need to stay in the “room where it happens.” (Sorry, can’t resist a #Hamilton reference!)  So my question today is this… how will I do this?

The answer? So far, I do not know, but I know that my Camino heart-room is the anchor that must keep me from drifting. There’s no going back to either who I was before I left, and there’s no going back to Spain. At least not right now, regarding the latter.

Today my prayer is that I can stay in the room where it happens… no matter where I am. You cannot stay on the Camino for your entire life, but you can stay on pilgrimage in your heart.

Oh – one more thing. All that challenge and misery inducing climbing and descending and walking through the long, lonely flats? It is great and wonderful and powerful and beautiful! Why? Because that is how God invites you to the change of being physically, emotionally, and spiritually stronger. But only if you allow God to do so. And only if you allow yourself to stay put in the room of your heart with God. I’ll be working on that, as I worked on my lung capacity and leg strength at the beginning of my Camino, with every step a prayer.